Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Washington Outdoors Report

For the love of Kokanee


In recent years, anglers who love the taste of salmon have been frustrated at times by inconsistent returns of Chinook, coho and sockeye salmon in rivers and lakes across our state.  This has led to limited and at times, no opportunities, to harvest these fish.  In response, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been stocking kokanee in lakes, providing an easily accessible opportunity for anglers to catch and keep a great tasting fish.  The kokanee is a landlocked sockeye salmon that ranges in size from7 to 16-inches or better.  The state record kokanee salmon was caught out of Lake Roosevelt by Clarence Rief in June of 2003, a chunky 6.25-pound trophy.  The world record kokanee was caught not far from our borders in northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Lake.  Ron Campbell caught this fish in 2010, a massive 9-pound, 10-ounce salmon which ironically, was caught the same day I was trout fishing with my family from shore at the Wallowa Lake State Park.   

Traditionally, Lake Stevens, Merwin Reservoir, Lake Chelan and Lake Roosevelt have been known as steady kokanee fisheries in Washington State but other lesser-known lakes as well as some ones only stocked in recent years are beginning to emerge as kokanee salmon destinations.

Steve Caromile is the Inland Fish Program Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  He says, “Washington has one of the largest hatchery programs in America if not the world” and stocks some 16 million fish in lakes around the state every year.  Kokanee are stocked in a several dozen reservoirs.  This includes destinations like Banks Lake and Deep Lake in Grant County.  Palmer and Bonaparte Lakes along with Conconully Lake and Conconully Reservoir all offer popular places to catch them in Okanogan County.  Additional well-established kokanee destinations include Loon, Deep and Deer Lakes in Stevens County, Kachess and Keechelus Lakes in Kittitas County, as well as Bumping and Rimrock Lakes in Yakima County.  

Several waters traditionally thought of as trout or mixed warmwater/cold-water fisheries have emerged as kokanee fishing destinations in recent years due to stocking efforts.  Examples of this are Spectacle and Alta Lakes in Okanogan County as well as Curlew Lake in Ferry County, Davis Lake in Pend Oreille County and Fish Lake in Chelan County where well-known angling personality Dave Graybill recently went fishing and caught several 12 to 13-inch kokanee.  Another Chelan County waterbody stocked with kokanee in recent years is Wapato Lake near Manson.  In total, kokanee salmon are either stocked or naturally producing and available to catch in 19 counties in Washington.  You can find a complete listing of these lakes at

When it comes to catching kokanee salmon you can occasionally hook into them fishing from shore using small spinners or spoons but trolling for them from a boat is the best way to go.  Kokanee can be anywhere from 20 to 100 feet below the surface depending upon the time of year and water temperature.  

Bob Loomis, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Mack’s Lure, has some good advice for anglers when it comes to catching these fish.   At this time of year, he’ll look for the fish from 20 to 60 feet deep and troll slow for them.  He’ll tie on a four to six-inch long oval shaped dodger like a Mack’s Lure Double D which has good movement at slow speeds.  On the leader behind the dodger, he’ll tie on a Mack’s Cha Cha 1.5 Kokanee Squidder with a silver Smile Blade and a hot orange body.  In Bob’s words, this is, “My go to lure for any lake I fish”.

As spring turns into summer and water temperatures rise Loomis recommends looking deeper in the water column and trolling faster (above 1.5 MPH) for the kokanee.  At this time of year, he’ll switch to a narrower shaped dodger like a Mack’s Sling Blade and a lower profile lure like a Mack’s Lure Koke-A-Nut.   No matter what time of year you fish tip your lure with bait.  The tried-and-true offering for kokanee is shoe peg corn but Loomis also suggests trying other offerings like small pieces of worm, maggots or shrimp.  

Best of all, kokanee salmon can be caught all year long in our state so if you are looking for some fine tasting salmon that will always be available at a lake or reservoir near you, consider trolling up some kokanee for the grill this year.

John Kruse – and

The Washington Outdoors Report, Outdoor Report, Kokanee, salmon


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here